Final frontier

The war on final exams

The end of the semester is hot on our heels and for a lot of SAIT students, this means itís time to start studying for exams.

Although SAIT focuses on providing a hands-on, practical education, a number of the courses and programs it provides still rely on standardized testing, which is growing increasingly unpopular among educators.

Sheldon Le, a gradeschool teacher in Calgary, said that new teachers are taught to rely on hands-on tasks.

“Let me be clear. Standardized testing is bad,” said Le.

Most tests use a binary grading system, meaning that answers are marked as either correct or incorrect. This trains students to think that misunderstanding a concept is just as bad as not knowing.

Mark Twain, who famously said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. Itís what you know for sure that just ain’t so,” is probably rolling over in his grave.

One solution to this, which some educators have taken up, is deducting marks for incorrect answers.

That way, if you answered the first four questions correctly on a test and the last question incorrectly, you would have gotten 60 per cent on the test. But, if you had left the last question blank, you would score 80 per cent.

Obviously, this makes tests much more difficult and is an imperfect fix.

And that’s just the first of a number of problems with the testing format.

Whereas hands-on work is generally open-ended, testing relies on “single-outcome” problems, said Le. So, instead of developing problem-solving skills, students are taught to memorize specific answers to specific questions.

“The outcomes of tests are specific and do not identify what the student knows or truly understands.”

Instead, standardized tests favour students who have strong memorization skills, and provide an unfair disadvantage to these with test anxiety.

For many students, this is a serious problem.

According to the American Test Anxieties Association, between 16 and 20 per cent of students suffer from test anxiety. Students who do suffer text anxiety score about 12 per cent lower than others.

John Doe, a SAIT student who wished to remain anonymous, said that test anxiety has been a significant hurdle in his life.

“Back in university, I was having panic attacks on a monthly basis,” he said.

It got so bad that Doe had to get a prescription for anti-anxiety medication. The drugs helped, but not enough.

“I still couldn’t sleep the night before a big test.

“I was totally wiped, and when I would sit down to write the test, I’d get all sorts of stomach problems.”

Between obsessing over the possibility of failing the test and trying not to vomit, Doe struggled to focus on the task in front of him.

In the end, he dropped out of university.

A few years later, after hearing from a friend that SAIT places more of an emphasis on project work than testing, Doe decided to come back to school.

“SAIT’s been a lot better so far,” he said.

“But I still have a lot of tests to write.”

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